ICT Will Revolutionise Justice Delivery’

That Law Reports go to the heart of legal practice, is not a mere aphorism. No Lawyer can effectively conduct a case successfully without the aid of reliable law reports, as this is the tool that Lawyers in most jurisdictions, if not all, rely on. In Nigeria, however, only a few Law Reports are reliable, and, it is still a work in progress. Nevertheless, quite a number have reached the pinnacle of success and acceptability in this venture. Funmi Quadri, SAN, the Founder and Publisher of Nigerian Supreme Court Quarterly Reports, and Editor and Author of several law publications, is one of the success stories. Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi pulled her out of her busy schedule last week, and sought her views on sundry issues, including how she has managed to cope with the challenging endeavour of law reporting along with active legal practice, and the importance of digitalisation and technology in the future of  justice delivery in Nigeria. She also recognised the importance of family support, which she received from her husband, and her children who all happen to be Lawyers, in her success story

Learned Silk, you veered into law reporting in 2002, and today you have Volumes in various areas of law including Election Petition, Criminal Law and Matrimonial Causes. Why did you choose these particular areas to report? What advice do you have for young Lawyers, who may be interested in treading the same path as you?

I ventured into Law Reporting in year 2002 because of the dearth of Law Reports, and the high cost of the few available ones. I found myself of over 10-12 years post – call experience not being able to develop my law library, nor could I afford to buy the few law reports in circulation. They were expensive, and not readily available. I found myself in a queue with some other Lawyers, to borrow Law Reports from some very senior members of the Bar.

My advice to younger Lawyers who are interested in this venture is that, they must first know that it is not an easy work – one sits down 24/7 to either edit or proofread, and one manages the supervision of the printing and marketing. It is not easy. But, the great joy is that if one can be resilient, hardworking, determined and endure, one will definitely succeed. One must be on his/her toes, at every given point.

Your reports have become one of the most reliable law reports in Nigeria today. How do you cope with such a tasking endeavour of editing judgements for law reports and, at the same time, engage.  in active legal practice?

Yes, my Reports have become one of the most reliable in Nigeria today. Do we talk of the Nigerian Supreme Court Quarterly Law Reports, the Election Petition Reports, the Nigerian Criminal Cases, the Matrimonial Cases which have all become household names in the legal profession?

I have been able to cope with the assistance and support of my dear husband, Olamilekan Quadri. My children, who are all Lawyers, have greatly supported me. With determination, hard work and God, the Creator of Mankind who has given me divine enabled merit and favour all round. I was used to active legal practice, before venturing into Law Reports after 14 years. I find it difficult to divorce myself from that, and my clients will not even let me be.

You are also an author of two books, one on Election Petition and the other on Civil Procedure. Do you think the new Electoral Act, 2022 passed the litmus test following the 2023 general elections, or the law still needs to be amended? Nigeria seems to have the highest incidence of Election Petitions after elections. Why is this so? How can the numbers be reduced to a bare minimum?

I authored some Books to aid the Law Reporting –

(1) The Cardinal Principles of Election Petition 

(2) Originating Summons in Civil Procedure.

(3) Brief writing in Brief 

The 2022 Electoral Act, is a great improvement on that of 2010

No doubt that the various provisions and amendments to the previous Electoral Act 2010 (as amended in 2015) in the Electoral Act 2022, are in order to improve the electoral process, and midwife democratic stability in the country. A careful study of the Electoral Act 2022 reveals clearly that if it is rightly implemented, it holds the prospects of attaining democratic stability in Nigeria over a period.

These prospects are lodged in several aspects and provisions of the Electoral Act 2022. Some improvements of the Electoral Act 2022 include making election funds available to INEC one year before the election date as provided in Section 3(3) of the Act, the new law ensures, and strengthens the financial independence of the Commission, and addresses major logistics challenges the Commission had encountered in the past. There is also the provision that has fixed the deadline for the registration of political parties to one year before a general election year. Section 29(1) of the Act makes it compulsory for Political parties to hold primary election and submit their candidates’ list not later than 180 days before the day scheduled for the general election. Also, in the new Electoral Act is the provision for early commencement of campaigns as contained in Section 94 of the Act, to commence 150 days before election day and to end 24 hours before the election day. Some other key improvements in the Electoral Act 2022 are:

a. Clarity on what happens in the event of the death of a candidate while election is ongoing, as provided in Section 34 of the Act.

b. Consideration and promotion of the inclusion of voters with physical disabilities, special needs and vulnerable persons as provided in Section 54 of the Act.

c. Redefinition of over-voting as provided in Section 51 of the Act.

d. By virtue of Section 65 of the Electoral Act, the Commission  can review results declared by a returning officer within 7 days, where such declaration was made under duress or contrary to the provision of the law.

e. Introduction and legitimisation of the use of electronic accreditation of voters, usage of smart card readers and other technology to ease the conduct of the election.

f. Only an aspirant who participated in the primary election of a political party, is allowed to approach the court for review under Section 29(5) of the Act.

Electoral reforms are credible and essential tools, towards attaining democratic stability. This is because they help to improve the electoral process, and reduce the possibility of fraud and other manipulations that are problems to democratic stability. Following this, the Electoral Act 2022 has been reviewed to possess the values to chart the path to democratic stability in Nigeria; although, not without first addressing some critical challenges including elite behaviour and lack of political will and attitudes towards improving the electoral process, security challenges, logistics challenges and others.

The issue of piracy is every Publisher’s nightmare. What has been your experience in this regard? How do you protect your law reports and books, from book pirates and plagiarists?

We in Law Reporting, hardly experience piracy or plagiarism, because before a volume is pirated, another volume is out. So, you don’t even know which one to pirate.

The world has since gone digital, and your law reports already have digital versions. How can Lawyers access your digital platform? Unfortunately, a good number of Nigerian senior Lawyers and Judges still prefer hard copies. How can they be persuaded to navigate towards the digital? 

Digitalisation is the new watchword to enhance one’s legal practice, and to enable a Lawyer to work efficiently and deliver optimum results.

We, at Funmi Quadri (SAN) & Co., have a robust IT tech team who deliver cutting edge IT tools for both Lawyers, Judges and judicial institutions, in assisting them in their daily practice and in managing their affairs better with the use of technology.

We have the Electronic Law Companion, which is one of Nigeria’s foremost research platforms. It is a digital library which will assist Lawyers in their daily practice to conduct their research in the snap of a finger. Our Law Companion is an electronic library of Nigerian case law and legislation, that empowers legal practitioners and academics with quick and easy access at the click of a button. Lawyers can access our digital library through multiple user-friendly channels: by visiting our website at lawcompanion.net, or through our mobile application available on both iOS and Android. This allows Lawyers to access law reports anytime, anywhere, with advanced search features. Subscribers to our service also have access to regular updates, and an extensive archive of resources.

We have made it available on various platforms, such as on mobile phone app stores for all kinds of mobile devices, ipad, desktop and laptop versions. It is very accessible, and it as easy as searching for law companion on your mobile store.

Quit a good number of senior Lawyers and Judges have embraced technology as they have benefited in a great measure, with respect to using it to make their lives easier. However, for many of them, the hard copies are just as useful and important as the digital versions, so, they still ensure they purchase the hard copies alongside the digital copies, as they complement each other.

To persuade senior Lawyers and Judges to embrace digital platforms, we focus on highlighting the convenience, efficiency, and added value of digital law reports. Digital platforms like ours are easily accessed anytime and anywhere, improving efficiency through advanced search functions that save valuable time, and providing real-time updates to ensure access to the latest legal developments.

Senior Lawyers need to understand that it’s a digital world now, and you can’t function properly without ICT. It’s therefore essential to adapt, in order not to be left behind. One way to learn, is by leveraging on junior counsels in their chambers, or even their children at home. Additionally, I’ve found that phobia is one reason why some senior Lawyers may be hesitant; to overcome that, all you need is to try using these tools yourself. You learn faster, when you make mistakes. Within a short time, you would have perfected the skill.

By emphasising these points, we can encourage a smooth transition towards the digital platform, ensuring senior Lawyers and Judges can fully benefit from the advantages it offers.

What are your views on virtual hearings? They still do not seem to be popular in Nigeria

Virtual hearings are a pivotal innovation in the legal industry, offering numerous benefits such as increased accessibility, reduced costs, and greater efficiency in the administration of justice. They allow participants to attend proceedings without the need for physical presence, which can be particularly advantageous in a country like Nigeria, where logistical challenges and traffic congestion can cause significant delays.

We have to do more with respect to embracing technology in legal practice, and I think it is high time those in authority have a round table meeting to discuss how we will totally overhaul the Judiciary to make it more technology driven, as it is done in most advanced countries in the world.

Certain events, including the Covid-19 pandemic, were an eye opener for how technology can be used to bridge the gap in the justice sector. However, with respect to virtual hearing, it has still not been fully embraced by various courts in Nigeria. The adoption of virtual hearing is haphazardly implemented in various courts, and it is the individual Judges that use their discretion in adoption of same.

It will surprise you the most that, many applications and motions taken in court really don’t require parties to be physically present in court for them to be taken, as so many of them are unopposed while a good number of other applications are heard on affidavit evidence which can easily be taken virtually without physically being present in court. In addition, a good number of appellate courts are overwhelmed with numerous appeals, while also election periods are always one of the most busiest for courts all over the county. Many of such cases can be mandated to be taken virtually, while the courts can be left for some other serious cases.

In order to get this running, all courts have to introduce in their various rules and practice directions on what type of cases or motions should mandatorily be taken virtually; they also need to equip and train the court officials on how to embrace and use these technologies, as this will be a total game changer for the justice sector.

One of the major causes of delay in the administration of justice in Nigeria, is the underutilisation of technology to expedite legal processes. Virtual hearings can significantly mitigate these delays, by providing access to justice regardless of geographical location. This means that participants can join proceedings from anywhere in the world, which is particularly beneficial for cases where parties have relocated abroad. For instance, many divorce cases involve individuals who have moved out of Nigeria. The costs and inconveniences of traveling back for court sessions can be prohibitive, and there are instances where parties have travelled only to find that the court did not sit.

Moreover, the Correctional Centres sometimes face challenges in transporting inmates to the courts, leading to unnecessary adjournments. Virtual hearings can address these issues by enabling remote participation, thus, avoiding such logistical hurdles. While it may not be feasible to conduct an entire case virtually, certain aspects such as taking witness testimonies, recording pleas, and other procedural steps can be effectively handled through virtual platforms. This hybrid approach can significantly enhance the efficiency of the judicial process, and reduce delays.

In conclusion, embracing virtual hearings and integrating them into the judicial system can revolutionise the administration of justice in Nigeria, making it more accessible, efficient, and cost-effective.

In the past few years there have been complaints of increasing of judgements delivered per incuriam, especially at the Court of Appeal. When you come across these in your law reports, how do you handle them, noticing these errors? How do you decide which judgement to choose, when you have conflicting judgements from the same court? 

In our Law Reports, we don’t emphasise on judgements delivered per incuriam. Authorities abound on “when a judgment is given per incuriam  …… when a decision has been arrived at by the Court in ignorance or conceal of an authority, statutory, or otherwise, which is binding on the Court” see the case of OKONJI NGWO v MONYE (1970-71) NSCOR 347. The Position of the law is that a judgement given per incuriam, is not binding on any court.

What suggestions do you have on how to handle this  issue of conflicting judgements emanating from courts of coordinate jurisdiction? The latest example being the judgements concerning the Rivers State House of Assembly imbroglio, where the Federal High Court has issued several orders and the Rivers State High Court has responded like a court of appeal, by issuing somewhat contradictory orders. What can be done to stem the tide of abuse of court process?

When we have conflicting judgements from the Court of Appeal, recourse must be had to the Supreme Court Judgements which are contained in our Supreme Court Quarterly Law Reports. Where there are conflicting judgements from the same courts, what we do is look at the decisions of the Apex Court in respect of a similar matter. Where the judgement is a binding precedent (Supreme Court decision), it takes priority over a conflicting lower court judgement.

We also look at the later judgement. Generally, a later judgement supersedes an earlier one, as it reflects the court’s most recent consideration of the issue.

Also, the circumstances of each case must be looked at. Where one of the judgements is more fact-specific and relevant, it is prioritised over the other.

To curb the abuse of court process, the courts have a bigger part to play. The courts must ensure that sanctions are placed on any party or Lawyer, that files a suit that is later discovered to be frivolous or an abuse of  court process. I think, that way, it will serve as a deterrent to others.

Most Nigerian Judges still write in longhand, with its attendant challenges. By the time some of them retire, they have problems with their writing hand. What, in your opinion, can be done to change this outdated practice?

Writing in long hand has caused numerous damage to many of our judge’s health and wellbeing, and I strongly appeal to the Federal Government and State Governments to look into providing more funding for the Judiciary, especially for the welfare of the Judges and providing them with various IT tools that will enhance their efficiency in carrying out their duties.

In 2021, we launched a solution called Q-soft Denovo which is aimed at eliminating writing in longhand. This system was launched by the Vice-President of Nigeria and the then Hon. Attorney-General of the Federation. This was our own way of responding to this longstanding problem in our country, as all foreign systems deployed have all failed. This marks a milestone, as the first of its kind in Africa.

The Q-soft Denovo system represents a groundbreaking solution, designed to transform court proceedings and enhance the administration of justice. It captures audio and video in real-time, while providing accurate transcription of spoken words. Additionally, it facilitates remote connectivity between courts and prisons, streamlining the participation of suspects and witnesses without the need for physical transportation.

With the advent of technology, the practice of writing in longhand is as old as time. There are technologies that totally eliminate such practice, and such have been fully embraced in developed economies. Interestingly, we have looked closely into this area for numerous years, and Our IT team at Funmi Quadri (SAN) & Co has worked closely with Q-soft Technologies to develop Africa’s foremost indigenously built Court Recording System which is one of the best technologies available to totally eliminate Judges writing in longhand, and other laudable features which are a totally revolutionary in our justice system. In one of the courts it’s deployed in, the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, the Judge was able, with the help of the system, to deliver over 58 judgements in Q1 only, which is practically impossible if proceedings are taken manually in the court.

It is therefore, time for the Renewed Hope administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and all those at the helm of affairs, to be totally committed to the welfare of our Judges as they are giving so much and not so much attention is paid to them, though the Judiciary is the last hope of the common man and the time for doing the same thing and expecting a different result is over.

Many Nigerian widows go through hell, ranging from primitive native practices that widows are subjected to, either to prove that they didn’t kill their husbands or to satisfy one custom or the other, to being evicted from their marital homes by relatives and issues of inheritance from their husband’s estates. Men do not appear to go through any of this, and if they did, it would also be unacceptable. What can be done to stop this discrimination against women? Even educated relatives are not excluded, from meting out unfair treatment to widows

Well, my major advice to Women, is first, to get a Lawyer who is versed on Family law. But, secondly, the Apex Court has come out with many Judgements declaring those obnoxious customs of subjecting women and widows to primitive native practices of proving their innocence or not entitled to the husband‘s or father’s properties, as being acts repugnant to natural justice, equity and good conscience.

The Court has held in several cases such as UKEJE v UKEJE ( 2014) 58 NSCOR 487, that discrimination  is a breach of Section 42(1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution on fundamental rights guaranteed to every Nigeria. A custom which disentitles a Female from inheriting is not only unconstitutional, but also null and  void. 

Addressing the discrimination against widows in Nigeria requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses legal reforms, public awareness campaigns, support services, engagement with traditional and religious leaders, legislative advocacy, education and empowerment initiatives. Strengthening and enforcing existing laws to protect widows’ rights, coupled with widespread awareness campaigns to educate communities about the harmful effects of discriminatory practices, are essential steps. Additionally, establishing support centres offering legal, emotional, and financial assistance to widows, alongside vocational training for economic empowerment, can provide much-needed support. Collaborating with traditional and religious leaders to advocate for the abandonment of harmful practices and promoting gender equality, is crucial. Furthermore, legislative advocacy efforts aimed at enacting comprehensive legislation protecting widows’ rights and advocating for inclusion in national policies on gender equality, are necessary. Finally, promoting educational programmes on women’s rights and economic empowerment, providing scholarships, and fostering support networks for widows and their children, can help address the root causes of discrimination and inequality.

Thank you Learned Silk.

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